We all know what mouthwash is, and see many variations of it on the supermarket shelf – the most common brand being Listerine. What people don’t know is that it can be used for many purposes (and not only before that really important first date). It can help protect your mouth from plaque, tooth decay and many other potential dental hazards.
What is Mouthwash?
Although it seems like a contemporary product, anthropological studies suggest that mouthwash goes back to ancient eras. Ancient Egypt, China, Rome and Greece developed recipes which included the use of ingredients such as charcoal and flowers. Mouthwash was officially commercialized in the 1800’s, made with alcohol. However, nowadays little alcohol is found in these products due to the fact that new germ-killing formulas have been developed.
According to this source, mouthwash is “a solution which is used to rinse away food particles and plaque from the teeth. It is used after brushing the teeth and can form part of a daily oral care routine”. By rinsing away food particles you will will eliminate any potential bad breath. The fact that mouthwash combats the building up of plaque is extremely important. Plaque carries bacteria and is detrimental due to the fact that it is one of the main reasons why tooth decay and cavities occur.
A minty recipe for success
Most mouthwashes which are usually used for aesthetic reasons and to offer a clean breath, usually have a menthol flavored extract in them. However, there are mouthwashes to combat specific problems and these differ in the active substance they contain. Some of these liquids contain sodium fluoride in order to prevent tooth decay and fortify the enamel on your teeth. If you want to combat plaque accumulation the mouthwash that you purchase will most likely contain Chlorexidine, Gluconate and Thymol. These substances, present in anti-plaque mouthwashes, will reduce plaque and, consequently, help prevent gingivitis, which is an inflammation of the gums. It is advised that you use a specific mouthwash if you have prevailing tooth sensitivity. The ingredient which makes up these desensitizing mouthwashes is usually Arginine, which is claimed to help seal tubules where your teeth may feel sensitive.
Some people claim that if you utilize hydrogen peroxide as a mouthwash it will act as a teeth cleaner. However, this is not safe and you should generally use a mouthwash that has been recommended by your dentist.
You can also opt for a natural mouthwash. Generally, no chemicals are present and ingredients such as natural oils from trees and menthol are used. These liquids are also free from artificial sweeteners and dyes.
What does mouthwash do?
The American Dentist Association claims that mouthwash has many different purposes which include freshening your breath, the prevention or control of tooth decay and the reduction or prevention of plaque and gingivitis (also known as gum disease).
Generally mouthwashes can be divided into two categories: cosmetic and therapeutic. Cosmetic mouthwash can control bad breath and give your mouth a burst of taste for a long period of time. However, they don’t get to the root of the problem (pun intended). Although they can control your bad breath these types of mouthwashes do not kill bacteria and do not help in preventing or avoiding tooth decay, which is usually what causes bad breath. Therapeutic mouthwashes, usually prescribed or advised by dentists, are a solution in preventing some of the dental nightmares that cause bad breath. They can also be complementary to an oral hygiene routine, along with brushing and flossing, to help rinse away any leftover food particles.
There are also mouthwashes that are for both cosmetic and therapeutic use. If you suffer from a condition called xerostomia (dry mouth), there is a mouthwash that specifically combats this issue. Lack of saliva usually increases the chance of tooth decay. This specific rinse stimulates the production of saliva.
If you have braces, using a mouthwash is very helpful to help clean areas which are difficult to do so otherwise. There are specific products for mouths with braces. Canker sores can usually be cleansed by mouthwash in order to help reduce the pain and discomfort they cause.
Friend or foe? – Safety concerns
Although rinses have been said to cause oral cancer there is no specific evidence to back this up. Over-the-counter mouthwashes are usually safe. However there have been concerns regarding the high usage of alcohol in some solutions. The over-use of alcohol present in a mouthwash can be injurious due to the fact that it causes your mouth to become dry. As was said before, a dry mouth can contribute to tooth decay.
There needs to be a natural and balanced presence of bacteria in your mouth. The excess usage of mouthwash can cause bacteria overgrowth and consequently, although rarely, lead to a condition known as black hairy tongue.
According to the American Dental Association the most common side effects of mouthwash include; staining of teeth, changes in taste sensation, tartar build-up, drying of mouth tissue, burning sensation, mouth ulcers, sensitivity on tooth roots and mucosal erosions. If you find that you are experiencing any of these symptoms you should immediately stop using the product and consult your doctor or dentist. There are also serious side-effects concerning the swallowing of this substance. Therefore, avoid swallowing or providing it to small children.
To rinse or not to rinse?
Both cosmetic and therapeutic mouthwashes can be very beneficial towards your oral care. Cosmetic mouthwashes can be complementary to an oral hygiene and bring a feel-good minty freshness to your mouth and combat bad breath. Specific therapeutic mouthwashes can help you combat problematic dental situations such as tooth decay, cavities, gum disease, plaque and canker sores. These should generally be prescribed by your dentist or orthodontist. It can even help you add substances that your body is lacking such as fluoride. Generally, people use these products before going to bed. While you sleep your mouth is vulnerable and dry, which allows for the multiplication of germs.
However, there is also a negative side to the usage or over-usage of mouthwashes. The St. Lawrence Dentistry office adverts that the main negative effects of using mouthwash include canker sore irritation, a superficial masking of breath and a dry mouth. The usage of alcohol that is present in some of these rinses can cause canker sores to worsen and hurt even more. Hence, you should pick a mouthwash with the least amount of alcohol possible, especially if you have or are prone to develop canker sores. The usage of alcohol also helps contributes to the drying of the mouth. A dry month can lead to the appearance of oral problems such as tooth decay, plaque and cavities. If you generally have bad breath, a mouthwash will only conceal it and will not actually resolve its origin, which could be of great seriousness.
According to Oral B Chlorhexidine mouthwash, usually used in the combat of gum disease, can cause your teeth to stain to a brown color.
The Final Verdict
Mouthwashes are generally a safe and effective choice and they should complement your dental hygiene routine (brushing and flossing). In order to avoid any of the negative side-effects you should always use the right amount. You can do this by purchasing a mouthwash dispenser to regulate amounts for children and adults. It may also be necessary to dilute the solution, depending on each brand, so you should read the instructions very carefully. It shouldn’t be kept in your mouth for longer than needed and most rinses advice that you utilize it for around 30 seconds before spitting. If you are worried about the chemicals present in these mouthwashes, you can also choose to rinse with a home-made substance. Usually mixing salt with water can do the trick.
If you are looking for a therapeutic mouthwash you should speak to your dentist, and learn about the ingredients present in the solution and their potential side effects.
Gargle and rinse away! But remember to ask for your dentist’s recommendations, keep in mind the side-effects and to maintain a consistent oral care routine!